On May.30th, UN-Habitat announced the Songyang Innovative Rural Development Programme (Songyang Programme), the collaboration with the People’s Government of Songyang County, hoping on generalizing Songyang as a sample to the world and sharing the experience of balancing urban and rural development.
The first UN-Habitat Assembly, titled ‘Innovation for Better Quality of Life in Cities and Communities’, is being held to search for innovative and sustainable methods in global urban development. The Songyang Innovative Rural Development Programme is the first collaboration program aimed towards sustainable and innovative rural developments that will ensure maximum benefits for both urban and rural areas and strengthen urban-rural linkages.
This program proposes to promote the importance of rural development within the realm of global human settlements. The Program will build on inspiring practices implemented in the rural Songyang County to showcase how rural areas can achieve innovative and sustainable modes of development through the enhancement of local technology, finance, and culture while protecting the environment. A successful story of Songyang’s rural development is expected to provide valuable lessons and inspirations to other rural areas worldwide. Such innovative and sustainable development initiatives are expected to significantly improve rural areas and their connection with cities, relieve the demographic pressure of urban areas, and extensively contribute to the overall prosperity of human settlements.
Songyang, with over 1800 years of history, is the oldest county located in Lishui, Zhejiang Province. There are more than one hundred traditional villages, whose original planning remains intact within in this old county. It is one of the best preserved regions in China and has been given the honorary title of “The Last Hidden Land of Jiangnan” and “The Sample of County of Ancient China”.
Over the past few years, Songyang has been actively engaged with the interaction of cities, towns and villages, which complement and assist each another for integrated developments. Taking the preservation and development of traditional villages as an entry point, Songyang continues to explore the possibilities of rural development. Following the strategy of “architectural acupuncture” and the principle of “minimal intervention but maximum efficiency”, Songyang extracts the typical culture and industry of each village to build up a more diverse economy based on high-quality agriculture. Songyang is also trying to improve the linkages between villages and between villages and cities, so that the rural and urban area can develop together and benefit from each other. In terms of preserving and developing of traditional villages, these actions have made Songyang a great example as well as an experimental field in China.
In January 2014, DnA _Design and Architecture started a collaboration with Songyang County which eventually developed into a systematic Rural Revitalizing Plan, an important part of the innovative rural development in Songyang.
Architecture has been adapted as an effective acupunctural strategy. Its primary program is to serve the community, to restore their rural heritage as well as improving tourism as a means to stimulate rural economic development.
With a minimalist intervention approach, multi-functional public programs are introduced to different villages and rural regions and are tailored to the complexity of regional heritage and context. Each building becomes a public space for nature, the village and the community.
Unlike some villages in the country with massive investments on tourism, the Songyang acupuncture strategy works within a limited budget to motivate local communities and stimulate further revitalization and business ideas in the region.
▼平田农耕馆，Pingtian Village Center ©周洋
By applying architectural acupuncture to this area, the projects aim to activate the circulation between the villages and among the regions. This could also provide a sustainable strategy for rural revitalizing in areas beyond Songyang. Countryside is no longer a place for agricultural labor, as its economic, ecological, social and cultural values become increasingly prominent.
Rural Economy has become an important chapter in the Songyang Story.
After its completion in 2015, the Pingtian Village Center has become a key program to the village home-stay business development. The fabric dyeing studio is also a start-up that trains villagers on e-commerce business. In Xing village, the economic success of brown sugar factory in past two years by increasing sugar price and village revenues has encouraged more villages to engage in the acupuncture project.
In each factory, a villager union has been set up to operate the factory to engage family workshops as shareholders of this collective economic entity. This new type of rural industry embodies the complexity of its village heritage and identity through an architectural design fitted for its context. It is both production and exhibition space of village traditional heritage to restore village pride as well as to attract tourism. The complexity of architecture as acupuncture also carries out as social structures.
▼豆腐工坊，Tofu Factory ©王子凌
This rural acupuncture strategy is not targeted at the local symptoms, but one that aims to bring interaction between the rural and urban areas as well.
For example, the tea education programs and the innovative tea products by its young operator Meng Xiaoxue at Damushan Tea House have become popular cultural tourism project and attracted thousands of students from many cities over the last year. A new start-up in Pingtian village, initiated by Ye ke who returned home from Hangzhou city, brought new e-commerce opportunities to this ancient village. Actupucture works not only within villages, but also the vast rural region such as infrastructure and tourism facilities in scenic districts.
▼竹亭，Bamboo Pavilion ©韩丹
The process of revitalization is neither to isolate rural areas against its urban counterparts, nor to convert any rural area into an urban expression. Rather, its goal is to activate the interactions between them by restoring a rural identity. By improving the living conditions of the villagers, the younger generations will be motivated to return to their home villages from the cities. In addition, its pleasant environment and accommodations would also attract urban residents to visit or even relocate to village living. Facilitated by the Internet and modern infrastructure, the rural can provide an alternative mode of living for the urban.
▼大路谭驿站，Dalutan Blueberry Pavilion ©刘晓飞
▼水利博物馆，Water Conservancy Center ©姜晓东
▼独山驿站，Dushan Leisure Center ©王子凌
During an interview with Chinadaily, Remy Sietchiping, the unit leader of the regional and metropolitan planning unit at UN-Habitat, explains Songyang’s story will make people think twice, because it makes a huge profit within the county and has transformed the lives of many people. The projects are low cost, short-term, and constructed with local materials. Therefore, they successfully bring a link between ecology and economy.